The three most important components of fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). Extensive research has established that EPA and DHA play a vital role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, heart attack, angina, stroke, congestive heart failure, depression and cancer. Clinical trials have also shown that fish oil supplementation is effective in the treatment of many disorders including high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, ulcerative colitis and Raynaud’s disease.
Now Finnish researchers report that high serum levels of EPA, DHA and DPA are associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF). Their study included 2174 men enrolled in the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study begun in 1984-1989. The men were 42, 48, 54 or 60 years of age at the baseline examination. During 17.7 years of follow-up, 11% of the participants were found to have AF upon admission to hospital (for arrhythmia or other reasons). This corresponds to an incidence rate of 0.6% a year. NOTE: Considering that the study only included men admitted to hospital, it is clear that the population-wide incidence would be significantly higher than 0.6% a year.
At baseline, the mean percentages of EPA, DPA and DHA in serum fatty acids were 1.67%, 0.55% and 2.46% respectively. After adjustment for age and other possible confounders the researchers observed that men in the highest quartile of EPA+DPA+DHA concentration (5.3 – 15.6%) had a 35% reduced risk of developing AF when compared to men in the lowest quartile (1.7 – 3.6%). The absolute risk in the lowest quartile group was 13.4% vs 8.7% in the highest quartile group. Further analysis revealed that DHA accounted for the entire risk reduction and that EPA and DPA levels were not associated with risk of developing AF.
Considering only lone afibbers (no heart disease prior to diagnosis of AF) strengthened the association between serum fatty acid concentration of DHA and AF risk. Men in the lowest quartile had a risk of 10.9%, while those in the highest quartile had a risk of only 5.6% – a relative risk reduction of 49%.
Alzheimer’s disease Prevention
Right now, there’s no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Research into prevention strategies is ongoing. The strongest evidence so far suggests that you may be able to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by reducing your risk of heart disease. Many of the same factors that increase your risk of heart disease can also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Important factors that may be involved include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight and diabetes.
Keeping active – physically, mentally and socially – may make your life more enjoyable and may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The mean serum fatty acid concentration of alpha-linolenic acid (found in flaxseed and other vegetable oils) was 0.74% and was not related to the risk of developing AF. A hair analysis revealed no correlation between methylmercury level (methylmercury is an increasingly common contaminant of fish) and risk of AF, nor did a high methylmercury level attenuate the beneficial effects of DHA. There was also no evidence that age, hypertension, systolic blood pressure or a history of ischemic heart disease modified the association between DHA level and AF risk.
Virtanen, JK, et al. Serum long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of hospital diagnosis of atrial fibrillation in men. Circulation, Vol. 120, December 8, 2009, pp. 2315-21
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disorder, for which there is currently no known prevention or cure. Some research has generated hope that one day it might be possible to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, delay its symptoms or even prevent it from occurring at all. Although there is preliminary data to support the benefit of some interventions, such as physical activity and cardiovascular risk reduction, nothing at this time has definitively been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. The scientific advisors of the American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF) do not currently recommend or endorse any commercial nutritional supplement, exercise program, or cognitive training exercises for the purposes of preventing Alzheimer’s disease. In spite of this, AHAF encourages people to evaluate the role of these interventions on the overall health and spirits of both the patient and caregivers
A number of preliminary studies suggest that how we eat may raise or lower our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Eating a diet that is high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and that is low in sugar and fat can reduce the incidence of many chronic diseases, and researchers are continuing to study whether these dietary modifications are also applicable to Alzheimer’s disease. However, the strongest research supporting these modifications has been performed in animal studies, and remains to be rigorously established in randomized and controlled clinical trials.
There are, however, some exciting reports, that though currently preliminary, may one day be shown to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Many of these modifications have also been shown to be part of overall healthy lifestyles that are likely to protect against other diseases as well. For example, researchers found that clinical trial participants who adhered to a Mediterranean diet have a slower decline on the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) cognitive decline. The Mediterranean diet may be protective against other diseases as well, including age-related macular degeneration. Also, vitamin D3 has been shown to have neuroprotective effects that may preserve cognitive function. This vitamin is produced naturally by the body from exposure to the sun, and is also being studied by AHAF supported scientists for its potential protective effects against glaucoma.
Some studies conducted in animals have shown that including blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries in the diet can lead to improved cognitive function, both in animals that age normally and in those that have been bred to develop “Alzheimer’s disease.” Scientists are beginning to study what chemicals within these berries might be responsible for their beneficial effects.
Curcumin is a spice typically found in turmeric which is used to enhance the flavor of curries and meats in Indian cuisine. Currently researchers are studying the effects of curcumin on the human brain. Recent research implies that curcumin might actually reduce the amount of beta-amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The problem with curcumin is that, in its natural state it is very difficult for a human body to absorb curcumin consumed as food. Once in the blood stream, it is also quite difficult for curcumin pass from the blood to the brain. AHAF funded scientists are studying whether special preparations of curcumin might overcome these limitations. Similarly, a study conducted on green tea and Alzheimer’s disease indicates that an antioxidant found in green tea, called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has powerful anti-plaque ability and may actually prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease.
Switching from animal based oils and vegetable oil to extra virgin olive oil may also be a good habit to adopt. According to recent research, not only is extra virgin olive oil a generally healthy food, but it may prevent Alzheimer’s disease as well. Studies suggest that oleocanthal, a naturally-occurring compound found in extra-virgin olive oil, changes the structure of Amyloid beta-Derived Diffusible Ligands (ADDLs). ADDLs are proteins that are toxic to nerve cells and may contribute to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. By structurally changing ADDLs, oleocanthal may be stopping the proteins’ ability to damage nerve cells within the brain.
By Hans R. Larsen MSc ChE